Bishops barred from Western Wall

Clergymen forced to watch worshipers from behind a fence after refusing to take off their crosses.

western wall 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
western wall 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
No crosses at the Western Wall was the message sent by a rabbi to a group of Austrian Catholic bishops who refused to hide their Christian crosses before entering the courtyard of the Western Wall, the Jewish people's holiest prayer site. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch refused to give the bishops access to the site and avoided meeting the ecclesiastic delegation of approximately 20, led by Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn. Rabinovitch denied that the incident, which took place Thursday, smacked of religious intolerance. "Crosses are a symbol that hurts Jewish feelings," said Rabinovitch who refused to elaborate on precisely how or why the crosses were so offensive. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a Church. I would be the first to rebuke such a Jew for not behaving like a mensch." Rabinovitch added that he was surprised the Catholic clerics refused to hide their crosses. "They did not have to take them off, just hide them. I've never encountered a Christian who has refused, including the Pope." Members of the delegation have already returned to Austria and did not return e-mail requests by The Jerusalem Post for responses regarding the incident. According to a directive issued by Rabinovitch, it is forbidden to openly wear the Latin cross, which represents what Christians believe to be the redemptive crucifying of Jesus, in the Western Wall courtyard. However, the delegation of bishops did not know this, said Austrian Embassy cultural attaché Arad Benko. "Unfortunately we did [not] know that there was a dress code," said Benko. "The Archbishop and bishops arrived in their traditional dress complete with crosses and robes. At the entrance they were stopped and told they could not come in unless they removed their crosses. "They decided to cancel the meeting with the rabbi. Instead, they retreated to a nearby terrace where they had a beautiful view of the Wall up there. Needless to say, they were disappointed." Afterwards the bishops visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, where during a speech Schonborn referred to the incident at the holy site. "I do not feel disappointed because we have seen the Wall from the terrace and we were able to participate in the prayers of the Jews from afar. Our decision to heed the requests not to approach the Wall was made out of respect for the religious sensitivities of the Jews." Schonborn, who was a leading candidate to replace previous pope John Paul II, is considered a friend of Israel. In March 2005 during a visit in Israel, Schonborn said it was doctrinally important for Christians to recognize Jews' connection to the Holy Land and Christians should rejoice in Jews' return to the Land of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Schonborn also rejected the notion, posed by many anti-Zionist Catholics, that the creation of the modern state of Israel was an expression of Europe's guilt over the Holocaust.